KAPALUA, Hawaii--Joe Torre is a part-time resident of Kapalua, on the Hawaiian island of Maui, and has been recruited to serve as the honorary starter of the Mercedes-Benz Championship at Kapalua's Plantation Course on Thursday.
It is a harbinger for the new Dodgers manager, who won't have an A-Rod and Jeter anchoring this lineup, either. Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, who earned their annual invitations here, again sent their regrets. So did Adam Scott and reigning British Open champion Padraig Harrington.
Once known as the Tournament of Champions, the Mercedes now is a tournament of some champions. Free money (no cut and guaranteed earnings of $65,000) in and of itself is no longer an adequate inducement, particularly when travel halfway around the world only a few days after Christmas is part of the deal. For the game's elite, free money is too easy to come by elsewhere and in substantially larger sums than the $65,000 guarantee for finishing last here.
"Personally, I think we start too early," Steve Stricker said Tuesday. "I talked to Gary Planos (Kapalua Resort's senior vice president resort operations) and he kind of feels the same way. It's holiday time. Don't get me wrong. I'm excited as hell to be here, but you still have family back home. You've got to take off on the 27th or 28th, right after Christmas, to get over here and make sure you're rested and ready. Personally, I'd like to see it start a week or two weeks later in the season, just to be home through Christmas and the first of the year and be able to spend some time with family and friends."
The merits of his argument notwithstanding, it doesn't seem likely to change, and absenteeism will continue to beleaguer an event that debuted on the PGA Tour in 1953 and probably deserves better.